Xu Guangqi's 'Extensive Explanations' of the Shuinα Huowen: Its Historical Significance and Impact

Vol. 38 No. 3   9/2008    


Xu Guangqi''Extensive Explanations' of the Shuifa Huowen: Its Historical Significance and Impact


Kuang-tai Hsu









Key words

Taixi shuifa, Shuifa huowen, Xu Guangqi, Sabbathinus de Ursis, Xiong Mingyu, Ze cao , Gezhi cao , Aristotelian natural philosophy, evidential study of natural knowledge


  In August of 1607, Matteo Ricci talked with Xu Guangqi about western techniques of water control, which led to the publication of the Taixi shuifa (Western Methods of Water [Control]) written mainly by Sabbathinus de Ursis, in which Xu Guangqi was responsible for 'extensívely explaining' (yanshuo 演說) its fifth chapter (juan ) entitled 'Questions concerning the methods of water [control]' (Shuifa huowen 水法或問). This paper aims at exploring this chapter's historical significance and impact.

  From the questions and answers of Chinese and Western literati featured in the chapter, it becomes clear that Xu Guangqi was the first Chinese scholar who adopted the Aristotelian Four Elements Theory to criticize the traditional astrology and divination techniques of the Five Phases (wu xing 五行) theory. In turn, Xiong Mingyu 熊明遇(1579-1649) was influenced by Xu Guangqi''extensive explanations' found in the Shuija huowen. In his Ze cao 則草and Gezhi cao 格致草, Xiong not only used the term extensive explanations' several times but also quoted or paraphrased a considerable portion of the contents of the Shuifa huowen. Furthermore, he extended Xu Guangqi's approach to a number of phenomena related to astrology, thus advancing the understanding of Western natural knowledge in China. In sun, this paper claims that Xu Guangqi'Shuija huowen provides the missing link between Jesuit writings and Xiong Mingyu's critique of traditional Chinese astrology and divination.



Author: Kuang-tai Hsu
Genre: Article